[Note: Cathy Zymet, neé Alter, has been a professional writer for many years. She has contributed to a number of periodicals, including many alternative weeklies, and Might, a defunct magazine geared toward prisoners. She now lives in Washington, D.C., and among other projects, writes, for a largely juvenile audience, biographies of popular bands and singing groups. These books are available at Wal-Mart and Walgreens. In a series of indeterminate duration, Zymet will be chronicling her experiences. Her story is very real.]
EPISODE ONE: THE DAWNING
When asked to define the essence of his “it” factor, Scott Moffatt, oldest and it-iest member of Canadian supergroup the Moffatts, replied with a knowingness that belied his 16 years.
“I think,” the man-child recently said, “chicks dig the guitar.”
May 19, 2000
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Scott’s meditation on celebrity and how his particular pheromone for fame (mixed around with those of this triplet brothers/bandmates) informs the hegemony which boy bands, in general, represent. As the official unauthorized biographer of another, earlier subculture, the Backstreet Boys, it is impossible not to recognize the dominance of this ascending power as causing the spectacular breakdown of consensus in the burgeoning era of Total Request Live.
Well, at least that’s what I like to tell myself. Subjecting bands like the Moffatts or the Backstreet Boys to the structuralist, semiotic, and analytical techniques propagated by Karl Marx and Roland Barthes is something I have to do because of what I do: I write books about flavor-of-the-month celebrities. And I write them for screaming, 12-year-old girls.
I puff myself up for two reasons. First off,.there’s nothing inherently validating in writing about the cast of characters — the Justin Timberlakes, the Nick Carters, the Christina Aguileras — that populate the inside of a teenager’s locker. Secondly, I self-elevate because no one else will. Except for possibly Neil Postman, and as far as I know, he has not written a letter of admiration in care of my publisher.
“You’re writing a book about who?” asks my writer-friend Karl, whose books usually concern themselves with callboys, heroin, bare-knuckle fighting, wastelands, and Detroit. Sometimes all at once.
“Tell me you didn’t just say LeAnn Rimes,” he responds when I indeed tell him I am writing a book about LeAnn Rimes. “You are not writing a book about LeAnn Rimes,” he says while shaking his head to illustrate how dumbfounded, how completely taken aback he is.
I have disappointed him. More so when I tell him, a year later, that I am now writing a book about the Backstreet Boys. “I did not. Just hear you say that,” he will go.
I lack the guts to tell him that this year, rounding out the Galaxy of Superstars trilogy, will be my opus on Ricky Martin.
Like actually going out and purchasing (and probably wearing) a pristine, yet clearly vintage, Journey concert tour jacket, writing about teen pin-ups is perfectly okay as long as it’s done with the bathos it deserves. But otherwise, it is not perfectly okay.
“At fifteen, LeAnn Rimes has accomplished things most adults can never hope to. She looks forward to the future and dreams of all the things she still wants to achieve. She’d like to have her own house, high on a hill with plenty of horses and cows. She’d also like to help children and has plans to go to college and study speech pathology.
“But real dreamers never stop dreaming. For LeAnn, there is always something new to strive for. ‘You know, you can mention Barbra Streisand to someone who listens to Aerosmith or Nine Inch Nails and they’re going to know who she is,’ says LeAnn. ‘And that’s my goal in life, to have everyone know, no matter what kind of music they listen to, who LeAnn Rimes is.’”
Ah, ha ha. Do you see how funny this is? Do you see how it’s funny on so many different levels? Do you see how I was in on my own joke? How I did this all on purpose?
“Hey Cathy!” says Stacy. “Use this in your LeAnn Rimes book,” she says, tossing me yet another cliché. “Her smile was as wide as a country mile.”
Seizing upon any opportunity for self-amusement, I do indeed swing around a bag of clichés and let them sprinkle all over my pages; I have used the oft-derided explanation point, sometimes in alarming succession (like so!!!); and take great joy in quoting from liner notes: “First and foremost, I wish to thank our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ for allowing myself, my family and my four brothers to see things this far and prosperous. There, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Well kids, here we are doing it all over again and again and again…but this time it’s gonna be even better than the last.” — Alexander James “A.J.” McLean
Yeah, well. It’s not funny anymore.